New US tariffs: Trump's major trade policy moves since taking office

US President Donald Trump said he plans to sign off on tariffs of 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminum, materials that are the lifeblood of the construction and manufacturing sectors.
US President Donald Trump said he plans to sign off on tariffs of 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminum, materials that are the lifeblood of the construction and manufacturing sectors.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US President Donald Trump sparked fears of a trade war and sent markets reeling on Thursday (March 1) when he announced steep new tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum.

He said he plans to sign off on tariffs of 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminum, materials that are the lifeblood of the construction and manufacturing sectors.

The move to protect American industry from unfair trade practices was the latest salvo in Trump's "America First" trade agenda.

Below are his other major trade policy steps since taking office last year.

TRANS-PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP

Making good on a campaign pledge, Trump on his first full day in office in January 2017 withdrew from the 12-member trade pact negotiated by his predecessor.

He said the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) - which has yet to take effect but has been signed by participating nations - left the United States exposed to unfair competition and was a bad deal. Trump's election opponent, Hillary Clinton, also opposed the deal.

But a year after taking office - after the 11 other members signaled they would press ahead with or without Washington - Trump struck a different tone, suggesting he would be open joining again if the United States won unspecified changes.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Feb 27 that high-level talks on this subject had begun, although other trade issues take precedence.

"I've met with several of my counterparts and other people who've begun to have high level conversations on TPP," he said. "It's not a priority at the moment but it's something the president will consider."

NORTH AMERICAN FREE TRADE AGREEMENT

After denouncing the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) as a "disaster" and the "worst trade deal maybe ever," Trump last year called for the pact to be renegotiated, but stopped short of withdrawing.

Delegates from Washington, Ottawa and Mexico City are currently attempting to retool the deal, but they have hit some serious stumbling blocks and the talks have been acrimonious in recent months.

Mexico and Canada oppose the American demand for higher requirements for US-made content in automobiles and the elimination of an important trade dispute mechanism.

The future of the agreement, which has seen sharp growth in trade but painful changes for certain industries, remains uncertain. KOREA-US FREE TRADE AGREEMENT Like Nafta, Trump said the agreement with Korea, the sixth-largest US trading partner, is a "horrible" deal that should be renegotiated or scrapped entirely.

US and South Korean officials are currently in talks to revamp the 2012 pact - the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement also known as Korus - which is now one of the only trade pacts still standing in the Pacific region since Trump withdrew from the TPP.

DUMPING AND SUBSIDIES

The Trump administration has ramped up efforts to clamp down on dumping and unfair subsidies of foreign goods sold in the US market.

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross says he has doubled the cases compared to the prior administration. This has meant a steady drum beat of announcements of tariffs on goods from Chinese aluminum foil to Spanish olives to Vietnamese tool chests.

But even if the number of cases has increased, the estimated annual value of the imports involved is in line with actions taken in prior years, since the Trump administration has focused on smaller-ticket items, like Chinese carton-closing staples and Sri Lankan rubber bands.

The White House suffered a major loss last month when the independent US International Trade Commission blocked efforts to impose tariffs on about US$5 billion (S$6.6 billion) in mid-size aircraft manufactured by Canada's Bombardier.

SOLAR PANELS, WASHING MACHINES

Trump in January 2018 slapped tariffs of up to 30 per cent on imports of solar panels over four years, and up to 50 per cent on washing machines over three years, saying foreign-made goods had left US producers hanging by a thread.

The move largely impacted China and South Korea and again raised hackles among major industry players. The solar industry itself claimed the move would cause a "crisis" and cost thousands of jobs and billions in investment.